Chhaya Collective review

By Mathilda Douglas, 6.2

Last Friday, Chhaya Collective came to Bedales to perform their amazing dance performances HYMNOS and KHAOS as part of the Bedales Events programme. Chhaya Collective are a female-led dance company working between UK and India. Their company was founded by Kay Crook in 2013 to engage artists in cross-cultural collaborative performance and creative projects, in response to societal issues. Their performance strives to amplify women’s voices and share real-life stories of women in the 21st century. In their performance they combined dance, music, theatre, and visual arts. There was a live band on stage which included a violinist, percussionist, and guitarist. 

HYMNOS was inspired by the story of Iranian artist and friend Saba Zavarei and her online platform Radio Khiaban, dedicated to Iranian women singing in the public spaces of Iran, an act currently forbidden by the state. HYMNOS was in the form of a duet, one woman relating to a traditional Iranian woman in society and the other woman was the Wild Woman. The Wild Woman was showing the other that it was acceptable to break from society and wanted to show her how to do it. They did this by the use breath within their flow of movements. They used contact to travel around the stage which helped opened each other up. Their movement got wider and more expansive as the piece went on, which showed the journey of breaking away from society. They used found sound and voice, where both women would either be screaming linking with the lighting in the piece or singing melo notes connecting together as one. It seemed the screaming linked with the feeling of annoyance towards the Iranian government and how their rule of singing in public shouldn’t be allowed. 

KHAOS describes itself as “not neat, nor calm, nor perfect, but vibrant, chaotic and powerful – we are wild 21st century women. We are not to be gazed upon but met head on”. This quote was their subject matter for their piece which celebrates what it is to be a woman. The live musicians join six contemporary dance artists to revel in the joy, tenderness, and the power of wild women. During this piece, there was direct correlation between the dancers and the musicians. Every time the musicians would increases or decrease their sound/intensity the dancers’ movements would get bigger or faster or decrease and become slower.

In the first part of this piece, all the women were dressed in grey coats that were tight fitted, showing no flaws of their body. There was the main female who would be controlling the other women, to show them how women are pictured/presented. They showed how women should always be perfect and should not expressed any feeling/emotion. They always had to have their arms by their hips in a fist shape and chins up. When travelling around the stage, they had to shuffle their feet in small movement to show control within their movement and there was very little dance material happening. At one moment, they were all trapped in a small circle centre stage where they all had a centra poised feeling towards them. Once the women knew how to hold themselves properly, it became harder to maintain this position as they all got very tired, proving it difficult for the leader who was controlling them.

At this moment the music stopped, and all dancers fell to the floor, the sudden silence showed that the women were tired of trying to be perfect all the time and this feeling had to stop. The violinist woke up the dancers and they took their grey costumes off to reveal bright/vibrant patterns. Once their realised that they could be whoever they wanted to be and show their true feelings they started to accept one another. They performed free flowing movements in a circle to unite everyone together. The music grew and their movement became more expressive. They performed a series of jumps with the use of breath which showed the women accepting themselves and showed their true colours. They started to scream to show their happiness with the accompany of the fast-beating music and overall had a high energy to end the performance. 

An interview with the Artistic Director of Utopia Theatre

By Eve Allin, Bedales Events Programme Coordinator

Utopia Theatre‘s production Here’s What She Said to Me is on tour in the South East and East England in February 2022, and comes to Bedales Theatre on 8 February (book tickets here). Before they hit the road, we had five minutes with the play’s creator, Mojisola Elufowoju.

Where did the inspiration for Here’s What She Said to Me come from?
Here’s What She Said to Me is deeply rooted in true events. It was first born out of conversations between me and my daughter. We realised how little communication we would share around certain areas of our lives, that this selective silence was something I had in turn experienced with my own mother and that by not learning from one another’s challenges, mistakes and trauma we are unable to create new paths for the next generation. To break this silence, I went on to tell my story and that of the women in my family to playwright Oladipo Agboluaje.

What can audiences expect from Here’s What She Said to Me?
A family saga that begins in Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1957, three years before the nation’s independence. We see three actors travelling between Nigeria and the UK through the next six decades and playing women down the generations, switching fluidly from direct address to dialogue, from English to Yoruba, and incorporating dance, song and mime in thrilling ways and switching between a panoply of family members around them – from inspiring grandmothers and stern husbands to spirited daughters whose confidence and hope, as girls, is yet unbroken. Oladipo Agboluaje’s script captures the women’s romances, achievements and dashed hopes.

How has the rehearsal process been? 

The cast and creative team have had a busy few weeks preparing for the tour. Whilst Here’s What She Said to Me has been performed before, the cast for the tour are new to the show and Mojisola is working collaboratively with them, Musical Director Juwon Ogungbe and Movement Directors Lati Saka and Maria Cassar to create this newest version of the story. Actor Anni Domingo described the process as “hard work but a lot of fun – there are quite a lot of elements to the play so we have been singing, learning songs, movement and, of course, acting. We’ve been given a lot of freedom to find our different characters.” 

What first drew you to becoming a theatre director and founding your own theatre company? 

I’ve had a passion for theatre from a very young age. Having gone to drama school and performed in a few plays, I realised that I am not in favour of the limelight and most importantly, I don’t like learning lines. Directing seems to be the next best option. 

I set up Utopia Theatre in 2012. The vision for setting up the company came from the need to see representation on stage, and to see a different kind of work produced. It was a vision and commitment to see myself on stage. I began making work with some of the people I graduated with. This began a journey towards a series of partnerships and opportunities. 

What legacy would you like the production to have on the venues and audiences? 

We hope that audiences who have not previously had the opportunity to experience African theatre will enjoy the rich forms of storytelling and music and be encouraged to engage further with African performance and arts. For those who will relate to the story of mothers, migration and intergenerational challenges, we hope it starts a conversation that may have not been addressed before. It is a heartfelt and humbling story brought to life on an almost bare stage. An experience of total theatre where music and movement become metabolised within the story. 

Embracing sustainable theatre practices at Bedales

By Joanne Greenwood, Theatre Manager and Production Designer

Here at Bedales we have always embraced the circular economy when it comes to productions. Reuse. Remake. Recycle. As with many theatres, we have a wardrobe which houses an extensive collection of clothing and accessories, and a prop store built up over the past 25 years.

With the global trend towards sustainably lockdown saw the creation of the Theatre Green Book. The Theatre Green Book gives theatre a path towards sustainability. It maps the journey towards a way of theatre-making that is low carbon and low waste, values people, and contributes to a more sustainable society.

The design brief we set ourselves for the Whole School Show 2021 was to honour 25 years of Bedales Olivier Theatre and to take part in the Theatre Green Book initiative in creating sustainable productions.

When designing any show, I consider what we have available to see what can be reused or adapted. Where possible, purchases are made on the basis that items have a future life and are considered an investment.

Many costumes in the wardrobe are used time and again, especially period costumes, but for a production to have an original and cohesive design there will always be adaptions and new costumes to be made. For Tales from Ovid (2021) we selected costumes from previous productions which hadn’t been used again and reinterpreted them in a new way to reflect the various tales.

The school pinafores from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (2007) formed the basis of the design for the Echo and Narcissus tale with collars made from remnants of fabric we had in stock. The Tereus and Philomela chorus wore jackets from Spring Awakening (2017), skirts from Les Misérables (2004) and boots from Me (2017). The male chorus jackets from Oedipus (2008) were used for the Midas tale with the hi top trainers from Around the World in 80 Days (2019).

The costumes in Jane Eyre (2006) were historically accurate in shape but the design concept was that all the costumes were various shades of red and therefore not realistic to how they would have been worn in the period. Worn by the Bacchic chorus in Bacchus and Pentheus with bare feet, ivy headdresses and doe eye make-up they paid tribute to the Sixth Form production of the Bacchae (1998).

The production also gave us the opportunity to use some memorable character costumes from the past:

  • Juno; Dress originally designed for Medea in Medea (2016)
  • Jupiter; Suit worn by The Prince in Sound of the Night Feather (2015)
  • Procne; Dress worn by Jocasta in Oedipus (2008), originally designed for Gertrude in Hamlet (2003)

Over 95% of the costumes from Tales from Ovid came from our wardrobe stock.

“Everyone in theatre starts their career by creatively stretching resource as far as possible. All theatre-makers are experts in sustainability. To the challenge of responding to the climate emergency, theatre is already bringing resourcefulness, dynamism and creativity.” – Theatre Green Book

New season of Bedales Events

By Eve Allin, Bedales Events Programme Coordinator

Thank you for your support of the Bedales Events programme over the past year. We are delighted to announce that we are returning in the Autumn Term with a full programme of events. The new season brings the sunshine inside with a packed line up of live performances. Let’s celebrate our collective love of the arts: come and watch comedy, music, theatre, and poetry right on your doorstep.

After what will be nearly 18 months of the live arts sector being closed for business, we are jubilant at the prospect of bringing events back to Bedales. We are confident you will enjoy this season as much as we enjoyed creating it. You can book your tickets for the Autumn season now at bedales.org.uk/events.

Starting off with an old favourite, Hackney Colliery Band are ready to raise the roof with their foot-stomping covers and original music. Later in September, the HandleBards are cycling over to us, set and costume slung over their shoulders: bring your picnic blankets for their all-female, outdoor version of Macbeth. Red Fox Theatre bring the warmth of a traditional pub theatre to the Lupton Hall, combining music and puppetry with captivating storytelling in Catch of the Day.

The best and brightest in the country join us for talks and lectures including furniture maker and industrial designer Sebastian Bergne, AI expert and co-founder of CognitionX Tabitha Goldstaub (OB) and inspirational headteacher Tony Hartney CBE. Families and young audiences are treated to a choose-your-own-adventure spectacular from friends of Bedales, Quick Duck Theatre. If it is comedy that piques your interest, but you are looking for an evening out after so many evenings in; The Noise Next Door are back again to entertain, enthral and surprise.

As the nights draw in, Phosphoros Theatre arrive to ignite our hearts and minds – ‘All the beds I have slept in’ is an insightful and stirring piece of theatre made by lived experience refugee performers. Cecilia Knapp, Poet Laureate for London, returns to Bedales in November to spend an evening reading poetry, answering questions and teaching students. Benny Wenda joins us for the annual Global Awareness Lecture – this talk has been an opportunity delayed and we are very lucky to have Benny joining us in December.

Woven in between all these brilliant visiting artists is our renowned Home Grown work – two school shows, two contemporary music events, four classical concerts, and two Theatre Studies exam pieces. These are performances created and staged at the heart of Bedales by the wonderful students that study here.

Deanna Rodger inspires

By Jamie Thorogood, Block 4

At the start of this lockdown, I was worried we’d be missing out on all of Bedales’ brilliant talks and performances… but I stand corrected! This week we were visited by Deanna Rodger, a multi-award-winning slam poet, who joined us online to lead a workshop for Bedales students and give a poetry reading for Bedales Events’ annual Poetry Series.

For the workshop, there were about 12 of us, so it was easy to ask questions and get our voices heard. We started the workshop with an icebreaker – each of us had to write small sentences on what ‘freedom’ meant to us. Then, we compiled them all into one big, spoken poem, and Deanna performed it for us (I’m surprised at how good it sounded, honestly). In the end, I think we all concluded that ‘freedom’ for us meant not having to set an alarm in the morning!

Next, Deanna introduced us to free writing. Essentially, we had to write about something for three minutes without stopping or taking our pen off the page. It’s an exercise that really helps with writer’s block. Our first topic title was ‘A mother once said’, and we had three minutes to write a poem with that title. I did struggle a bit with it at first, but I got the hang of it eventually. After those three minutes we quickly moved on to the second title, ‘My face as a map’, then after that, the last one: ‘Home as a smell’. Once we’d put all our thoughts onto paper, Deanna told us to take our favourite sections from each of them and compile them into one, big poem. Although this stumped me slightly (I didn’t know where to start!), there were some absolutely gorgeous poems from everybody else.

After the workshop, there was just enough time for a quick dinner before Deanna’s poetry reading, talk and Q&A for Bedales Events. To open the event, Deanna led another icebreaker. We were told to think of the emotion we’d been feeling most that day, then write that emotion as a place, a food, a mode of transport and a person (I chose hopeful).

After that, Deanna started her talk. I bet it was hard talking to yourself in front of a camera, but she was so friendly it was like you were in the room with her. She performed two of her poems, Being British and Ode to Summer Infant Duo, both of which were engaging and beautifully structured. Afterwards, Head of English David Anson hosted a Q&A where Deanna talked about her inspirations (Mariah Carey, obviously), the time she wrote her first poem (after having a fight, obviously), and her plans to write a Disney musical (as does everyone else, obviously).

Both the talk and the workshop were excellent, and it was great getting advice from a real poet. I’m sure I can say on behalf of everyone that I hope Deanna comes back soon.

Learning from History – from Hitler to pandemics

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

On Monday evening, historian Tim Bouverie came to Bedales for our second ‘real live’ Civics of the term. It was Tim’s first live gig since lockdown, and he was visibly pleased to be speaking to a real rather than virtual audience. It was a socially distanced audience, but a well- attended talk, and showed Bedales living with COVID, and not cancelling.

Tim’s 2019 book, Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War was what he came to talk about, but the questions in the second part of the talk ranged far and wide. Was there any similarity between the democratic world’s approach to Germany in the 30s and democratic Europe’s current approach to China? To what extent does personality rather than political pragmatism drive the decision-making that elected leaders execute on our behalf? To what extent did public schoolboy rivalries drive geo-political decision making: Eden was an Old Etonian, Churchill an Old Harrovian, Chamberlain an Old Rugbeian (I made that last one up, but let’s look at the current Cabinet).

If Germany had ‘invaded’ Czechoslovakia in 1938 to annex the Sudetenland and then called a halt to its well established agenda of righting the perceived wrongs of the Treaty of Versailles, then Chamberlain would have been hailed as a hero, another world war averted, and his statue would be in Parliament Square, not Churchill’s. The appeasers would have been vindicated; the anti-appeasers cast into the dustbin of politics to write their memoirs in whatever was the acceptable equivalent for a shepherd’s hut in 1940.

History will judge our politicians’ reactions to COVID-19 similarly. Perhaps the lockdown sceptics will be vindicated; it was all a massive over-reaction to bad ‘flu’ and 10% of GDP was an unnecessary loss to the country. Or the COVID paranoiacs might feel, like Cassandra, that had their prophecies been heeded, the dead would be alive. Whatever position on the spectrum one chooses to adopt, there is evidence available to support one’s view. The weight of evidence doesn’t equate to the weight of argument, and its validity. Rather like the Brexit debate, the vehemence of commitment to a position is fast becoming a substitute for veracity.

Returning from long leave we’ve outlined our plan for two more closed weekends before our two week half term. I understand Churcher’s College, our close neighbours in Petersfield, have shortened their half term from two weeks to just one, and are operating the second week of half term as an online teaching week to have a sort of ‘semain sanitaire’ prior to the second half of term. This would go down like a rat sandwich, I know, at Bedales, amongst students and staff battling to keep it all together during these next two weeks. But it reflects the range of responses to COVID-19 restrictions that schools across the country are exercising.

Bedales’ current COVID restrictions aren’t as restrictive as those operated by some schools, and we’re positioned broadly in the middle of the spectrum. Our SAMBA II testing machine, which arrived on Thursday this week, should be transformative in how we can test students and speed up the awful and open-ended wait for the test result to arrive. And the wider school community of staff and their families can benefit from it too. Gavin Williamson’s avowed intent to keep schools open is predictably fatuous because illness, if it does strike in a school community, will mean teachers unable to teach, as opposed to students unable to attend.

If the dreaded 14 day isolation is visited on anyone over the next few weeks then Bedales parent Adrian Wooldridge’s book, The Wake Up Call: Why the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the West and how to fix it, would be a good read. As a global index, the bigger the state machinery: the lower the death toll.

Fascinating Civics with historian Tim Bouverie

By Eben Macdonald, Block 5

On Tuesday we had the pleasure of attending a talk by the young historian Tim Bouverie, author of the book Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill and the Road to War. Bedales’ Head of History Matt Yeo asked Bouverie a variety of interesting questions about appeasement, Neville Chamberlain’s character and how the lessons of appeasement relate to today’s political environment. Although only students could attend the event in person, it is available to watch in full on the Bedales Vimeo channel here.

Bouverie stressed that politicians have simply taken the wrong lessons from Chamberlain’s disasterous attempt to woo Adolf Hitler in 1938 by getting him to sign a doomed agreement promising no further territorial demands in Europe. Opposition to appeasement, Bouverie argued, has instilled belligerence in politicians – leading to Anthony Eden’s Suez Canal debacle in 1956, the invasion of Iraq in the 1980s and the second invasion of Iraq in 2003. Hawkishness, Bush made clear, can be no substitute for appeasement. The two are simply a false dichotomy. 

Matt also asked Tim about his personal life and what inspired his interest in history, and appeasement specifically. Tim had worked for Channel 4 News for a few years, and as a journalist. He covered various political events, such as the Brexit campaign, requiring him to travel across the country. Although he got the contract to write the book long before any of these events happened, he describes the EU Referendum and the election of Donald Trump in 2016 as occurrences which seemed to validate the importance of the matter about which he was writing.

Tim’s interest in appeasement seemed to revolve around Neville Chamberlain’s character and the naïve attitude at the time regarding Hitler. The 1930s were a wonderful decade for political diaries, he informed us, and they were often witty – as well as deeply ironic. In his research, he documented how many diaries of MPs seemed to believe that Adolf Hitler was under control (the big exception, of course, was Winston Churchill, who vocally warned of the dangers of Nazism). Then again, politicians tended to overestimate the damage of the Blitz. Churchill warned that within the first few months of the Blitz, there would be up to 40,000 casualties (the number was nothing close to that). One politician, Tim noted, warned that bombing could destroy the entire city of Leeds within 45 minutes. Matt wittingly commented that as a man from Manchester, such an event did not seem so bad to him.

Tim was interested in the character of Chamberlain – and the talk was made interesting because his character was not dissimilar to that of the incumbent’s. Chamberlain was known for his arrogance and extraordinary stubbornness (do any of those characteristics ring a bell?). He insisted that appeasement was the correct policy and refused to listen to any dissenting view. Although, this view was understandably shared amongst many politicians and voters, many of whom had relatives who had been victims of the First World War – nobody wanted war.

The audience asked very questions, and Tim returned them with very interesting responses. Questions ranged from how the principles of appeasement can be applied to the world’s post-Covid relationship with China, to if Chamberlain’s age affected his policy decisions. Tim stressed that the principles of international cooperation are necessitous and imperative to fighting climate change, a global pandemic and taking on an ever-more aggressive Chinese Communist Party. Tim’s answers to questions, ideas and unique historical perspectives made his talk incredibly interesting and worth the night.

Remembering Bedales co-founder Oswald Powell

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By Matilda McMorrow, Librarian

“It is never good for the governed or for the government that injustice should be tolerated without protest,” began Oswald Powell in his letter to the Hants & Sussex News in 1913. At the time he was fighting alongside Winifred Powell in solidarity with all women, in a society that took women’s work, money and lives whilst refusing them the right to be seen as people. The Powells would protest this injustice for five more years before any UK women had voting rights. They confronted the tax authorities, took local action in Petersfield and international action at a Budapest conference, and of course, tried to model social change in their work at Bedales. This collaborative, action-driven spirit seems to have been at the heart of the man who co-founded Bedales, and certainly put life into the ideas of John Badley, whose name we might be more familiar with.

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